- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

Saturday’s devastating earthquake in Kashmir is just the latest reason why the world needs Refugees International (RI) more than ever.

Key players assembled Tuesday at the Kennedy Center’s Roof Terrace Restaurant for the advocacy group’s second annual awards dinner, although high spirits took a back seat to the latest headlines.

The recent disaster brought the number of global refugees to roughly 33 million, of whom 2 million were displaced by the earthquake.

Supporters carried on despite the tragedy, honoring former United Nations Ambassadors John C. Danforth and Richard C. Holbrooke for their peacemaking efforts in southern Sudan and the Balkans, respectively. Also honored were actor Sam Waterston, RI’s longest-serving board member, and author Samantha Power, whose book “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” shone an unflinching light on some of the last century’s harshest regimes.

RI, it will be noted, serves as a strictly independent advocacy group for refugees, illuminating their plight and coaxing governments to offer any and all possible aid.

The dinner, which raised $250,000 of no-strings-attached funding for the organization’s coffers, attracted about 250 supporters, including former U.S. diplomats Elizabeth Frawley Bagley and Cameron Hume, Brig. Gen. Steve Cheney and philanthropist and RI chairman emeritus James V. Kimsey.

Mr. Holbrooke departed from the group’s apolitical mien in his acceptance speech, jabbing the Bush administration for not adequately planning for a peaceful post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Mr. Danforth chose a more measured approach, thanking Mr. Holbrooke for offering some simple yet sage advice about dealing with refugee issues a few years back: “When you see [a problem], you’ll know what to do.

“The function of Refugees International,” Mr. Danforth added, “is to make sure all the world sees it.”

Mr. Waterston, a prolific presence in both films and television’s “Law & Order,” addressed the recent imbroglio concerning displaced New Orleans residents who are insulted to be called “refugees.”

“The word ‘refugee’ needs its good name back,” Mr. Waterston said during his fiery acceptance speech. “They’re not pitiable. They’re amazing and heroic. It’s a term of great respect.”

The pre-dinner cocktail party found Mr. Holbrooke venting over journalists’ dismissal of refugee matters.

“It’s very frustrating to watch the media give coverage to the ‘Runaway Bride’ and other trivial subjects when there are 33 million refugees in the world,” he said.

RI President Kenneth Bacon said his group’s ban on accepting government funds lets it operate without fear of reprisal.

“We speak out on issues [when] other groups can’t,” Mr. Bacon said. “They’re afraid of biting the hand that feeds them.”

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